SLASHER MONTH: Just Before Dawn (1981)

Man, if all Jeff Lieberman did was make Squirm and Blue Sunshine, he’d already be way ahead of the horror game. But no, he also made this contribution to the slasher genre, which owes a major debt to Deliverance (it was called Survivance in France).

Shot in the Silver Falls State Park in Sublimity, Oregon as Mt. St. Helens erupted, this film reminds you of one very important fact: if George Kennedy tells you to stay away from the woods, you better listen.

After that encounter — and seeing the survivor of the movie’s first attack by the mountain family saying that he’s seen demons — a fivesome of teens still head into the woods for what they hope will be a fun time away from the rest of the world. Chris Lemmon — yes, Hulk Hogan’s Thunder In Paradise co-star — is in this, as is Gregg Henry from Body Double.

There’s more than just a killer in the woods — there’s a set of identical twins and an inbred girl and a strange church and crickets that seem to know how to get quiet every time a character shows up.

While the original script’s heavily religious themes were cut out — it was to end with the family forcing the final girl to handle snakes in a ritual — it’s still a pretty great take on a slasher, one more based in something that could happen, with little to none of the supernatural getting in the way of all that murder. And the way that the last bad guy is taken out — wow. Talk about visceral.

Update: You can get Blu-rays of Just Before Dawn from Kino Lorber on January 12, 2021. The re-issue includes both the 91-minute uncut U.S. Version and the 102-minute extended International cut. In addition to new interviews from stars Gregg Henry, Chris Lemmon, Jamie Rose, and Producer David Sheldo, the Blu also features vintage interview featurettes with Lemmon, Rose, and Sheldo, actor John Hunsaker, and writer Mark Arywit. You can learn more about Kino Lorber’s complete roster of films at their official website and Facebook, and watch the related film trailers on You Tube.

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